Something good happened at Toronto City Hall this week.
I know, I know. I’m as surprised as you are.
Councillors vote to seek end of ‘first past the post’ system in city elections
Toronto city council took a significant step on Tuesday towards dramatically changing how the city elects its leaders — and who gets to cast a ballot.
By a vote of 26 to 15, the governing body asked the provincial government to allow it to use the ranked choice voting system, which demands that the winning candidate accumulate at least 50% of votes cast. It also asked, by a margin of 21 to 20, the minister of municipal affairs and housing to grant permanent residents the right to vote in municipal elections. Both initiatives require Queen’s Park to amend legislation.
Proportional representation crusaders will lament that this is more about refining first past the post than overhauling the system, but it’s for that very reason these reforms are likely to see the light of day. Like the weather, Canadians love to complain about our dysfunctional political system, but nobody ever seems to do anything about it. Over the past decade, Canadians have voted down STV, MMP, and various other acronymed voting systems in four provincial referenda. There simply doesn’t appear to be an appetite in the country for radical electoral reform.
That’s what makes the preferential ballot so appealing. It’s simple – you rank the candidates in order, something most voters do in their heads anyways. The candidate with the most votes still wins – the only difference is that sometimes the vote total will include second and third place votes. Although that sounds like a largely insignificant change, it should lead to a few tangible benefits.
First, it ensures the winner better reflects the will of the people. With first past the post, all it takes is a 3-way race for someone to get elected with under 40% of the vote – Nathan Phillips, for whom the square outside City Hall is named, won his first election as Mayor of Toronto with just 34% support. While I’m sure that election wasn’t on the minds of councillors, many were no doubt imagining a hypothetical scenario where 2 or 3 strong candidates split the “anti-crack” vote, leading to Rob Ford’s re-election. No, these changes won’t take effect next year, but having a not-so-hypothetical hypothetical staring us in the face certainly makes the benefits of this system easier to grasp.
With the dreaded “vote split” no longer an issue, candidates can step forward without being accused of siphoning votes away from the frontrunners, and voters will no longer have to choose between the candidate they like and the most “strategic” choice. I’m sure Joe Pantalone would have rather spent the last week of the 2010 Mayoral Campaign talking about the issues rather than if he was going to drop out to prevent a vote split on the left. Ditto for every single candidate who has ever run with good ideas but little chance of winning.
Finally, a ranked ballot should lead to more civility on the campaign trail. To be realistic, it won’t mean a lot more civility, but maybe a little bit. Candidates will need to be careful about alienating second and third choice voters by waging an overly negative campaign. Yes, the two frontrunners will still knock heads, but in a 3 or 4-person race the game becomes more about being everyone’s second choice than about depressing the other guy’s turnout.
The ranked ballot isn’t a radical change, and its impact will not be dramatic. But voters aren’t looking for radical change, and it will make our political system a little bit better. Given the state of municipal politics in Toronto these days, that’s very welcome.
A two year old video showing Stephen Harper doing fairly solid Diefenbaker, Clark, Mulroney, and Manning impressions surfaces.
Not a bad time for a distraction, eh?
I expect this will be my only blog post on the 2013 Calgary Mayoral election. That’s because, despite recent rumblings about a bid by talk radio titan Dave Rutherford, Naheed Nenshi appears to be almost unbeatable.
I’ll admit to being wrong about Nenshi before – here’s what I wrote a month before he won one of Canada’s most exciting municipal elections of the past decade:
Naheed is brilliant and has, hands down, the best ideas of any candidate on how to run Calgary. So, of course, he will not win.
If there’s ever a case study in not taking elections for granted, it’s Nenshi, who sat within the margin of error of 0% at the start of the campaign. So it’s understandable that the media and political strategists are taking Rutherford’s candidacy very seriously.
The thing is, the ground was far more fertile for an upset in 2010 than it is today. That was a wide open mayoral race with no incumbent and a pair of deeply flawed frontrunners. This time we’re dealing with a re-election campaign in a city which has not voted out a sitting Mayor since the Flames moved from Atlanta. Since then, incumbents have received 80%, 93%, 90%, 92%, 73%, 82%, and 61% of the vote. If there’s one thing Calgarians like more than the Rocky Mountains and ragging on Edmonton, it’s re-electing their mayors.
At this stage, all signs point towards Nenshi’s share of the vote in October falling within that historical range. A Leger poll last November found 88% of Calgarians approve of his performance and 87% agree he deserves to be re-elected. This includes 51% who strongly believe he should be re-elected.
While there has been some recent controversy over Nenshi’s decision to hold a referendum on how to use a $52 million property tax surplus which…zzzz….sorry, the sheer boredom and irrelevance of this issue put me to sleep for a second. Living in Toronto these days, it’s hard to believe something like that could even pass for “mildly controversial”.
Yes, Canadian politics has been full of upsets in recent years. But most of these have taken the form of unpopular incumbents holding on to power. I’m at a loss to find an example of a popular incumbent losing. Things can change in 4 months, but we’re dealing with a candidate who could alienate half his base and still win re-election.
I don’t doubt that Dave Rutherford is well liked, respected, and could mobilize much of conservative Calgary. But Rutherford should look to city hall journalist Rick Bell who tried to take out a sitting mayor in 1998, only to finish with 8% of the vote.
Naheed Nenshi from 3 years ago is the perfect example of why you should never take anything for granted in politics. But Naheed Nenshi from today is the perfect example of why sometimes you really can predict the outcome with 99% confidence before the election. Dave Rutherford would be wise to save himself the time, money, and potential humiliation of fighting a campaign he realistically has no chance of winning.
After quitting the Tory caucus, MP Brent Rathgeber pens one of the most devastating and pointed critiques of the Harper government I have ever seen. One is left wondering how many others in the Conservative base feel the same way.
I STAND ALONE
Late last night I notified the Board of Directors of the Edmonton-St. Albert Conservative Association of my difficult decision that I was resigning from the Conservative Caucus to sit as an Independent in the House of Commons.
Recent allegations concerning expense scandals and the Government’s response has been extremely troubling. I joined the Reform/conservative movements because I thought we were somehow different, a band of Ottawa outsiders riding into town to clean the place up, promoting open government and accountability. I barely recognize ourselves, and worse I fear that we have morphed into what we once mocked.
My constituents demand better. My constituents simply do not care what somebody, who they hope will never become Prime Minister, did or didn’t do seventeen years ago. They do care, however, about the relations between a sitting Senator and Langevin Block (PMO). For a government that was elected on a platform of accountability, my constituents are gravely disappointed. They appreciate human frailty but when a group misses its self-proclaimed standards, a little contrition and humility not blust and blunder, is the expectation.
To say that we are somehow better than the other guys is similarly woefully inadequate. If we are measuring our ethical performance against the Sponsorship Scandalized Liberals, perhaps we need to set our ethical bar a little higher.
I can only compromise so much before I begin to not recognize myself. I no longer recognize much of the party that I joined and whose principles (at least on paper), I still believe in. Accordingly, since I can no longer stand with them, I must now stand alone.
I can’t wait to see the tourism brochures:
Toronto mayor Rob Ford is still dodging allegations that he smoked crack cocaine, but now he seems to think there’s a silver lining to the international attention brought upon his city by the scandal over his (alleged!) drug use: tourism dollars. At least that’s what Ford told Toronto radio DJ Maurie Sherman on Saturday when asked if the extra high-profile press, from morning shows like Good Morning America and Today to late-night hawks like Jimmy Fallon and Jon Stewart, was hurting the city. “No. It’s whatever people perceive it as. Any time you can get Toronto on the map,” Ford said. “I think people have to come to the city and see what we have to offer. And we have great arts and culture, great theatres, great restaurants, great sporting teams. I encourage everyone to come to Toronto.”
In an interview on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show on Tuesday night, Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio indicated that he would not support the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill he had helped author unless it is changed.
I can just hear the 2016 stump speech now – “Friends, who stood up and said no to Marco Rubio’s deeply flawed immigration bill three years ago? A bill that would have let millions of illegal aliens across our border? A bill written by Senators so out of touch from reality that they were oblivious to the damage they were doing to America? Yes friends, Marco Rubio stood up and say ‘no – this bill shall not pass‘.”
Like Michael Chong’s QP reforms, which died in parliamentary purgatory, this is a worthwhile bill by Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux, albeit one unlikely to ever see the light of day:
Kevin Lamoureux, a Liberal MP from Winnipeg, wants all political party leaders to be forced to stand by the content of their ads, with U.S.-style endorsements or tag lines at the end, acknowledging that approval for the advertising comes from the top.
It wouldn’t kill negative advertising by any means, but it would at least make political parties wear whatever mud they throw. While I’m sure the Tories will shoot this bill down, they have been the victims of some truly nasty ads themselves in the past, so it’s one they should at least consider.